by Kimberly Gill • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
The Light Gallery + Studio has a refreshingly clean, urban vibe that’s comfortable and inviting to patrons. Paintings, pottery, homemade candles, intricate tapestries, specialty papers, jewelry, decorative pillows and tea towels, even wooden cutting board and tables all created by local artists are on display. Elton, the gallery cat (he even has his own Instagram account: thegallerycat), will greet you at the door along with owners E Townsley and Matthew Provoast.
Located at 317 Division St. (near Wealthy St.), the Light Gallery + Studio is the creation of these two professional photographers and recent graduates of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris University. Their gallery/studio opened in the fall of 2016 – an opportunity made possible by the Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, which provides artists with combination work and living spaces for lease in the Heartside community.
A long list of classes and workshops are offered in their studio, including encaustic painting, making frame looms and learning weaving techniques, papermaking, fiber arts felting, stitching and beading to create wearable art, linoleum printing, carving images to print with dyes and calligraphy. They even hold workshops teaching the proper way to hang artwork in your home.
Townsley grew up in Sterling Heights before moving to Grand Rapids to attend college. She’s grateful for one high school teacher who changed her perception of what she could accomplish in her life by pursuing an education in art. At Kendall, she initially studied graphic design but later changed her major to photography after entering the darkroom.
“I was really interested in the hands-on process of the dark room but also painting, drawing and the application of mixed media,” she expressed. “I like to try new things and new processes to create more than just a photo in a mat and frame.”
Townsley wanted to push the boundaries of photography. Fortunately, she found another fellow student who was on the same conceptual wave length: Provoast.
Provoast grew up in Whittemore, MI, a small town near East Tawas, with a graduating high school class of only 32. Grateful for his small-town roots, Provoast also had a high school teacher who encouraged his artistry. It was his grandfather, however, who inspired him the most to become a photographer. Looking at the photos and undeveloped film his grandfather captured as a photojournalist during the Vietnam War is what really planted the seed for Provoast growing up.
“My grandfather was a huge support and he helped me purchase my first photography equipment,” he said.
Part of a long line of entrepreneurs in the family, Provoast began his own wedding photography business during his sophomore year in high school, which he has continued to grow to this day.
Provoast and Townsley were friends and often collaborated on projects together during their four years of college. It was the summer after graduation when Cupid’s Arrow struck, and they fell in love. When ArtPrize arrived the following fall, so did an opportunity to start a business together at 317 Division Ave. Provoast’s father, skilled in carpentry, constructed the portable walls for the gallery and private living space in the back. Interior designer friends helped transform the space into an inviting environment for a gallery and studio.
“We wanted to make it homey, to allow people to visually imagine a piece of artwork in their home instead of the traditional gallery – an exhibition style space with white walls and spot lights,”Townsley explained.
Provoast added, “There is a time and place for that, but our goal is to get artwork on other people’s walls.”
In the beginning, the two relied on their artist colleagues to stock the gallery with merchandise. They also went to local art receptions, artist and farmers markets and even street fairs searching for artwork that would fit aesthetically in their space. Today, over 50 artists are represented at their gallery with a healthy balance of emerging and established artists, each one local – a mandatory requirement of them both.
“I believe it’s something like $68 out of $100 you spend locally goes directly back into your own community,” Townsley shared. “You are making your city a better place.”
Townsley and Provoast recognize the value in getting involved in their community. They are active members of the Avenue for the Arts and participate, as a gallery, in the First Friday of the Month Gallery Walk. Each month, they showcase a guest artist, and their gallery and studio was a venue for ArtPrize 2017, bringing upwards of 2,000 art seekers into their store.
Because education is a vital component of their business and mission, they sacrificed their living room to make space for teaching.
“What’s nice about our space is that we all gather around this big table talking and sharing stories,” Provoast shared. “Classes are small and intimate, and everyone walks out happy, making us realize that we are on the right path.”
Classes and workshops offered at Light Gallery + Studio are meant to appeal to everyone at every level.
“We are making it approachable for people who don’t have an art education background to get their feet wet in the creative process,” Provoast said.
Running their own professional photography businesses and the gallery/studio has been an incredible learning experience for both of them. They aren’t afraid to try new things, take chances or to seek answers from those more experienced. Provoast even took classes at Grand Rapids Community College to learn more about running a small business and marketing strategies. The business continues to grow and evolve; they plan to curate art exhibits for local establishments and pursue innovative ways to market to interior designers.
To learn more about the gallery and the studio classes and workshops offered, visit lightgallerygr.com.